The Merchant Of Venice 3 Essay, Research Paper
The Merchant of Venice
I believe that S. T. Coleridge’s phrase “representation of men in all ages and all times” applies to this play because I feel that the characters in this play, even the female ones, portray universal elements of the nature of man. One of these elements is honor, which Antonio displays bravely. A second element is the cockiness so often associated with men, this element got Antonio in a heap of trouble. Another element is a man’s loyalty to his true friends is great; Bassanio and Gratiano proved this when he refused to let Antonio down. Lastly, the stereotype that men are less intelligent or witty than women is played out when Portia and Nerissa outwit their suitors and get them to give up their rings.
In Shakespeare’s time a man’s honor was usually the only collateral he possessed in an issue. Hence, a man would want to maintain as much honor as he could; Antonio made good on his word at all costs. When it seemed that he had lost the wager with Shylock, Antonio was prepared to part with a pound of his flesh to make good on his word. However, when the Duke pointed out that Shylock could take no blood or face worse consequences, Antonio got of the hook. The fact remains, though, that Antonio would have given his own flesh to assure that his honor would be protected.
When Bassanio asked Antonio to help him get a 3000 Ducat loan by backing him with his good credit, he agreed. When the two met with Shylock, the moneylender, Shylock was leery that all of Antonio’s money was tied up in merchant ship ventures. Shylock then drew up a bond that called for Antonio to promise him the money by a certain day or then owe a pound of his flesh to Shylock. Antonio sealed the bond knowing that his ships were in a risky venture because he wanted to portray his stern trust in his own financial status.
Shakespeare shows very well the fact that a man’s friendship with another man almost always serves as the top priority. This is shown best in this work by Bassanio, a friend of Antonio’s. Bassanio had just won the hand of Portia in marriage through a game, and it pleased her to be his wife, then Bassanio learned that Antonio needed him in his trial. Now to understand the predicament that Bassanio faced one must understand that Portia was royalty, and the most coveted and beautiful woman in the land. Even though he was so very tempted by Portia to remain with her, Bassanio’s friendship with Antonio almost immediately drew him to the trial. This element is also supported when Portia and Nerissa find out that Bassanio and Gratiano gave up the rings that they promised with their soul to keep. The women are very upset, so the men, fearing for their relationships, plead with the women, trying to explain the circumstances. Finally, Bassanio and Gratiano, pledge their faith to the women again. Antonio, who was not involved in the dispute, offers his soul to assure the women that the men will keep their word.
The last element discussed in this paper is that men are intellectually inferior to women according to conventional stereotypes. Shakespeare shows this well with Portia and Nerissa’s characters. Portia and Nerissa decided that they would like to test the devotion of their new sweethearts. So when Bassanio and Gratiano depart to assist Antonio with his trial, Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves and leave quickly. The castle is left in the care of Jessica, Shylock’s daughter and Lorenzo, her husband. Bellario (Portia in disguise as a doctor of laws) and his clerk (Nerissa) enter the courtroom in which Antonio’s trial is going on; they assist in freeing him of the bond. Portia then asks for Bassanio’s ring as payment for her help. He refuses it until she has left and Antonio tells him to give it to her, so Bassanio sends Gratiano after Portia(she is still disguised) with the ring. Then Nerissa finagles Gratiano out of her ring. Then the women return quickly home. The three men arrive back at the castle and find Portia and Nerissa waiting, but Bassanio and Gratiano don’t have their rings on. After making the men feel sufficiently bad and forcing them to beg for forgiveness, the ladies return the rings and the three couples live happily ever after. But only after the women have asserted themselves as more cunning.
Upon examination of these elements one can easily draw the conclusion that Shakespeare is focusing on male behavior. This play makes use of stereotypes that criticize men as well as points out good qualities that men possess, like charisma and honor. I believe that S. T. Coleridge’s phrase fits very well because Merchant of Venice is a “representation of men in all ages and all times.”